Q: MY 14-year-old daughter uses an app to make photos of herself look better on social media. It’s upsetting that she feels she needs to alter the way she appears to other people – what can I say to her to make her realise it’s unnecessary?
A: Heather Widdows, professor of global ethics at the University of Birmingham and author of the book Perfect Me: Beauty As An Ethical Ideal, says: “That our daughters now live in the virtual world as much as the real world is surprising and unsettling. If you don’t use TikTok and Instagram you might feel like your daughter has left you behind, is at risk, and you don’t know how to protect her.
“The first thing to do is realise this is normal – completely and utterly day-to-day stuff. Half of girls routinely edit their photos, use filters, and take down posts if they don’t get enough likes. This might not be the world we’d like, but it’s the world your daughter lives in. So take a deep breath, step back and recognise just how much pressure there is to look perfect and with the right positive attitude.
“As a parent, you need to take the pressure she’s under seriously and not dismiss it out of hand. Whether we like it or not, looks do matter in our increasingly image-based culture. So don’t tell your daughter ‘its what’s on the inside that counts’. She knows this isn’t true, and it will push her further away.
“Talk to her about how she feels. She’s media-savvy. She knows even celebs don’t look like their photos, but knowing this doesn’t stop her feeling the pressure. Talk to her and take her feelings seriously.
“Looks matter, but they aren’t all that matters. Looking the part isn’t being the part, and other skills and talents are needed to succeed in life. Time taken editing and posting selfies is time away from other things, from sport, from friendship, from studying, all of which she needs. Encourage your daughter to do the things she loves, to take pride in other achievements. To build a rounded and robust sense of self.
“To worry about looks is normal, to engage in some of this is normal, and done openly and with friends can be fun. But over-worrying about looks is damaging and body image anxiety has devastating consequences.
“Most importantly, as a parent, don’t be hard on yourself. The visual and virtual culture is new and we’re only just beginning to work out how to live in it. Reach out, join with others, and use campaigns such as #BeBodyKind and #everydaylookism.”